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Belsize Park writer and travel guide pioneer dies aged 76

PUBLISHED: 12:40 19 February 2020 | UPDATED: 09:20 25 February 2020

Michael Haag. Picture: Michael Haag friends and family

Michael Haag. Picture: Michael Haag friends and family

Veronica Haag

A Belsize Park writer and pioneer of travel literature has died at the age of 76.

Michael during his travels in Greece. Picture: Michael Haag friends and familyMichael during his travels in Greece. Picture: Michael Haag friends and family

Michael Haag, of Belsize Lane, had a "ferret-like curiosity for a story" according to his friend and publisher Mark Ellingham.

One of his most important works to date was 'Alexandria City of Memory', published by Yale.

Raised in New York and kicked out of Boston University for his "mischievous" streak, Michael went on to become one of the first writers to develop the idea of a readable travel guide.

Having visited his grandmother in Belsize Crescent as a child, Michael moved to west London after he became disillusioned by the puritanical education system in the US.

The travel writer (right) in Stoupa, Peloponnese, Greece. Summer 1985. Picture: Michael Haag friends and familyThe travel writer (right) in Stoupa, Peloponnese, Greece. Summer 1985. Picture: Michael Haag friends and family

While based in Maida Vale, Michael was involved in a dispute with church commissioners who he believed were making it difficult for his family to move to another church-owned home.

He published the story in the local newspaper and soon after the Belsize United Tenants Association was formed, which helped retain the neighbourhood's literary and artistic character.

Michael said at the time: "The landlords booted me out to what they saw as the dumps of Belsize."

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Here, though, Michael grew attached, proud and protective of his surroundings, where he would live for more than 45 years.

Due to a then-lack of speed restrictions, he opposed Belsize Park and Belsize Avenue being used as a rat run for drivers between Haverstock Hill and Finchley Road.

After a child was killed on Belsize Park, Michael fiercely and successfully campaigned - despite initial council opposition - to have a zebra crossing installed.

With his pressure unrelenting, traffic islands were later put in place, which remain to this day.

In his professional life, after writing travel guides on Egypt and Greece, Michael ventured into the world of publishing where he helped engineer the rediscovery of travel literature.

He wrote a blog charting the quirks of his travels, for instance his 1982 traverse of Mount Taygetos, Greece.

During his final decades, he worked on a magnum opus on Lawrence Durrell (which remains unfinished) and a number of bestsellers - most recently his biography The Durrells of Corfu.

After suffering with atypical Parkinson's for three years, Michael died on January 5, with his funeral held at St Peter's Church, Belsize Park.

Michael is survived by his daughter Veronica Haag, his son Philipp, his stepson Anton Betaudier and ex-wives Jane and Loutfia.


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